In 2010, thanks to his work on James Cameron's Avatar, Kim Sinclair joined the short list of Kiwis to have scored both an Academy Award and a Bafta. His globetrotting career as a production designer has seen him working in locations from Mexico to Thailand to the Southern Alps, and for directors Martin Campbell (Vertical Limit), Steven Spielberg (The Adventures of Tintin) and Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away).
The delight for me working on films is really the energy that comes from working on a team — all working toward a common goal. Kim Sinclair
The Dark Horse is the story of a Māori ex-speed chess champ who must “overcome prejudice and violence in the battle to save his struggling chess club, his family and ultimately, himself”. Genesis Potini has a bi-polar disorder; his nephew Mana (Boy’s James Rolleston) faces being pressed into a gang. A near unrecognisable Cliff Curtis won international acclaim as Potini. James Napier Robertson's acclaimed second feature was picked to opened the 2014 Auckland and Wellington Film Festival, and scored six Moa awards, including Best Picture, Director, Actor and Supporting Actor.
Maurice Gee's classic novel about aliens running amok under Auckland has rarely gone out of print, since its debut in 1979. First adapted as a memorable 80s TV series, this movie retooling sees teenage twins Theo and Rachel stumbling across shape-shifting creatures that are hiding beneath Auckland's extinct volcanoes. American showbiz magazine Variety praised Black Sheep director Jonathan King's "solid helming", and the excellent acting of Sam Neill as the mysterious Mr Jones. Oliver Driver plays lead villain Mr Wilberforce, under four hours of make-up.
When inept environmental activists release a mutant lamb from a laboratory, thousands of sheep are turned into bloodthirsty predators. Three hapless humans are stranded far from help. As the woolly nightmare develops, they discover a bite from an infected sheep has an alarming effect on those bitten. director Jonathan King executes genre thrills and tips over a few sacred cows in his well-received debut feature. The film played was invited to more than 20 international festivals, scoring good reviews and awards along the way.
Serial Killers pokes fun at a group of characters that write for a Shortland Street-esque TV soap called Heart of Hearts. Around the "table of pain" sit irrational Pauline (Robyn Malcolm, who claimed a 2005 Qantas Award for her performance), in the midst of a messy divorce from series co-creator Alan (John Leigh); boozy ex-nurse Simone; name-dropper Matt (Oliver Driver); and ditzy ingénue Elaine. Created by prolific writer James Griffin (Outrageous Fortune, Gloss, Mercy Peak, Shortland Street etc) and based on his award-winning play, it screened in 2005.
Working from a kind of 'play within the play' premise, comedy series Serial Killers, cleverly satirises the lives of a group of TV soap writers, actors and the industry they all work for. Featuring Pauline (played by Robyn Malcolm) the permanently stressed-out screenwriter of Heart of Hearts, and her ex-partner/co-worker Alan (John Leigh), these excerpts from the 2005-screened series include the pair trying to reason with their producer (a preternaturally calm Tandi Wright) who demands the writers re-introduce a character they'd formerly killed off.
Set in a high flying PR firm, Spin Doctors was a topical, fast turnaround satire — in the tradition of John Clarke’s The Games. No client is too grasping, no issue too unsavoury for Giles Peterson and Associates, and a team including a ruthless Australian (Mark Ferguson), a boozy trout (Elizabeth Hawthorne) and the office liberal unsuccessfully battling his conscience (John Leigh). Each episode was written and produced in just five days — allowing the writers (including James Griffin, Roger Hall and Tom Scott) full license with the week’s issues.
Alex is a champion teenage swimmer determined to win selection to the 1960 Rome Olympics, in this adaptation of the award-winning young adults novel. Written by ex Empire Games swimming medallist Tessa Duder, Alex was the first in a quartet of books exploring the vicissitudes of the high achiever freestyler as she deals with rivalry, ambition, first love and the pressures of growing up. Lauren Jackson, who played the title role, later appeared in vampire movie Perfect Creature. The film was a co-production between NZ and Australia.
While visiting family down under, American teen Lonny catches up with his grandfather, a man with an infectious giggle, a thirst for adventure — and two vampire-sized incisors. Released locally as Grampire, this family-friendly adventure combines local names (among them future Pluto singer Milan Borich) with a winning turn as nice guy vampire by American Al Lewis (cult series The Munsters). Director David Blyth was won over by Michael Heath’s script because it reversed convention, and “was a plea for children to be allowed to keep and develop their imaginations”.
On a holiday to Mt Tarawera with her scientist parents, teenager Jenny (Katrina Hobbs) finds an odd shard of metal. By touching it she unwittingly awakens 'Drom' — a survivor of an alien mission to deactivate a planet-annihilating space gun (aka the volcano!). Local kids Tessa and Lloyd also own key pieces; if Drom and the teen trio can't defeat the gun-toting mechanoid ... human and alien species extinction is imminent! The internationally successful six part series was a South Pacific Pictures and Canadian co-production; it screened in 1991.
On a holiday to Mt Tarawera, teenager Jenny (Katrina Hobbs) finds an odd shard of metal. In this third episode of the kids sci-fi series she meets its owner: 'Drom' — a survivor of an alien mission to deactivate a planet-annihilating space gun (aka Tarawera itself). They find themselves under siege from a Predator-like 'Guardian' of the gun. If Drom and Jenny and local kids Tessa and Lloyd (future What Now? presenter Anthony Samuels) can't defeat the mechanoid, catastrophe is imminent! The South Pacific Pictures series found international sales and cult repute.
Gregor Nicholas explores the outer edges of obsession in this deliciously fruity comedy. The syncopated medley of music, strange noises and varied eccentrics doing their special thing shares similarities with a fondly-recalled scene in cult film Delicatessen; though Delicatessen was yet to emerge when this short film first debuted. Rushes played in multiple festivals, including the prestigious Clermont-Ferrand. The soundtrack is by ex Techtones guitarist Steve Roach. Director Nicholas followed this with another oddball romp: his feature debut User Friendly.
Comedy series Porters featured an impressive cast. George Henare, Peter Bland (star of Came a Hot Friday), Bill Johnson (Under the Mountain) and Stephen Judd (Bridge to Nowhere) starred as a cynical team of hospital porters who share no love for their boss (Roy Billing). In the hope of lifting the standards of Kiwi comedy, the makers of this 80s television series imported Emmy award-winner Noam Pitlik (Barney Miller, Taxi) from the US to direct. The series made comedy from hospital romances, missing patients and union representation. Only six episodes were made.
Created by actor/writer Jonathan Hardy, comedy series Porters was based around a group of porters working in a big city hospital. This episode features an early screen appearance by Rima Te Wiata (Hunt for the Wilderpeople); she guest stars as a worried nurse who calls on junior porter Peter (Stephen Judd from Bridge to Nowhere), after hearing some strange noises on the night shift. An encounter in the mortuary awaits. The episode also includes appearances by fellow porters George Henare, Peter Bland and Bill Johnson, with Roy Billing playing their long-suffering boss.
When people tell the amazing story of Kiwi legend Julian Harp, Nicky doesn't get a mention. Now, in one of the NZ screen's classic monologues, Nicky takes the opportunity to let us in on what really happened: her relationship with Julian, his plan to destabilize the Government via letterwriting campaign, and the couple's preparations for the day he achieved engineless flight and rose into the sky from the Auckland Domain, never to be seen again. Based on the classic short story by CK Stead, author of Smith's Dream (aka Sleeping Dogs).
This pirates of the South Seas tale stars Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black, The Fugitive) as rogue Bully Hayes, who helps a missionary save his kidnapped-by-savages wife. Produced by Kiwis Rob Whitehouse and Lloyd Phillips (12 Monkeys, Inglorious Basterds), the film was made in the 80s ‘tax-break’ feature surge and filmed in Fiji and New Zealand (with an NZ crew and supporting cast). John Hughes (Breakfast Club) and David Odell (Dark Crystal) scripted the old-fashioned swashbuckler from a Phillips story. It was released by Paramount in the US as Nate and Hayes.